Words: Thomas Stichbury; Images: Supplied
11 year after she became the fourth queen to sashay away in season two of RuPaul's Drag Race, Kylie Sonique Love feels like she's finally introduced her real self to the world.
"It’s like you’re trying on clothes, right? And someone opens the curtain into the dressing room, and you’re not finished yet, and you’re like, no, no, no. And then you’re like, now this is me, not that, that was me getting ready," Kylie tells Attitude ahead of the finale of All Stars 6, in which she has secured a place in the top four and - officially or not - the Drag Race Hall of Fame.
"Now when we watch the show, we get to see all these different layers of who I am. You get to see a fully realised person versus one narrative of somebody. Like me being trans is not the most unique thing about me, and me being a gymnast is not all I can f***ing do."
As the first Drag Race star to come out as transgender - which she did so in the season two reunion back in 2010 - Kylie's place in Drag Race herstory had already been assured, but the 38-year-old from Georgia says she's been dogged by self-doubt over the last decade; an unwitting victim of hopping aboard the Drag Race ship long before it became the TV juggernaut and instant route to fame it is today.
All that's changed with All Stars 6, however, where Kylie's effortless cool and elegant performances have repeatedly proven her star power. Here she speak to Atttitude about rebirth, resurgence, and her one teensy regret from All Stars 6....
Who, or what, is your biggest inspiration?
It really comes from women I feel like I see myself in. Strong women. Women who make men feel inferior – is that the word? Like Jessica Rabbit, her power is [being] a woman… a woman who was built like a transsexual to be honest. I loved her, and I loved Catwoman - it was her power as a woman. A power that a woman has is so incredible, so much so people who identify as men will do their best to entertain the world as something so powerful as a woman.
I just love strong women… that’s where I get my inspiration for drag. I [also] say RuPaul, because when I see RuPaul in drag, I see a powerful woman. We embody both male and female energy, all of us do. She taps into her female energy and it’s so beautiful.
What would you say Kylie Sonique Love – as in your performing alter-ego – has taught you? Do you see it as two separate people, or is it more symbiotic than that?
It feels like there is a switch that comes on. There is a sex appeal that I have in drag… like, that’s not me, [wait] that is me, you know? I sometimes get shy when I see myself… I think there’s a sex appeal that I have in drag that gives me that Jessica Rabbit, that strength that I really admire, that women possess, [then] I realise that I possess that same power too. And it makes sense too in my everyday life – who I am out of drag makes all that make sense. I don’t think putting on a wig makes you less or any more of a woman. What you have is what you have; that energy, that aura you have is there.
Your performance of Christina Aguilera’s ‘Dirrty’ is hands down one of the best lip-syncs in Drag Race herstory. Stunts can sometimes overwhelm a performance, but yours were timed to perfection.
It complements the song. I’ve learned over the years to balance the performance and the stunt; take your time. My bread and butter before I went on Drag Race was, I f***ing wowed people by doing backwards flips and climbing the walls and doing splits and stuff, and that’s what made me stand out. So, I brought that to Drag Race, and you know, it was taking something that really made me feel unique in a way and kind of, like, knocking me down, and I felt like it wasn’t good enough. But what I did learn over the years was how important it is to really connect with the words and to sell that. I’ve seen the growth from 11 years ago, doing ‘2 of Hearts’ [by Stacey Q] with Morgan [McMichaels] to doing ‘Dirrty’.
Let’s talk about the acting challenge, which you won. I think it’s the first time I’ve seen somebody act rather than over act on the show.
I agree with you. I think what the show probably could use is something a little more realistic, because we are trying to create queer stars for the future, and who’s to say - you know, Jennifer Hudson came from American Idol and she’s winning Grammys and Oscars, why can’t somebody from RuPaul’s Drag Race be that too? I’d love to do more acting, more serious acting.
As you said, it’s been 11 years since you first appeared on Drag Race. Was there something you wanted to prove, or show this time around on All Stars? Had you been asked to be on All Stars before?
I’d never been asked to be on any series of All Stars until season six. There are a million Drag Race girls, so I’m sure they went down the line. How relevant was I in the whole scheme of things? You know, I went home fourth, 11 years ago, before Drag Race had the traction that it has now. But was there something that I wanted to prove? It wasn’t so much something I wanted to prove, more that, I just felt like I wasn’t fully seen in a correct lighting as, like, who I am.
When I watch it from a viewer’s point of view, from a fan’s point of view, I don’t connect with that character, I don’t connect with that person at all, there’s not enough there. I just see a really confused version of myself. Mentally, I knew where I wanted to be, and that where I was in that moment, especially how I identified, was not what the case was going to be, you know, a few months from then. I’m the kind of person, I cannot move on with my future if I’m living in the past, and something about Drag Race lives forever no matter what, and I just felt like I was always stuck there for 11 years, that’s all people could see me as.
That makes sense.
I couldn’t get enough traction from Drag Race to keep the Drag Race fandom wondering what Kylie Sonique Love is doing now, or what Sonique is doing now. I really just had to say, ‘You know what, I cannot wait around for RuPaul to call me again to tell my story, go live your life, do what makes you happy, whether it’s music, whatever, just go do it. If they want you, great.’ I’m so grateful to RuPaul’s Drag Race… and I’m so grateful that I got asked to come back. It wasn’t so much about reintroducing myself but introduce myself properly. I know the word reintroduce, but it’s not even - I was never even properly introduced to begin with. It’s more of that. Did I answer that question?
You answered it and then some. Over the last couple of seasons Drag Race has been spreading the love when it comes to representation, and now the queer, trans, non-binary and gender fluid communities can see themselves on screen as well. Do you find that heartening, that Drag Race is stepping up on that front?
I feel like when they started this whole thing about Drag Race, they had an idea of what they wanted the format to be about, which are cis males performing in drag, right? Cis gay males performing in drag, as women. Then it slowly, you know, you get people like Milk, who are – they tap into the parts of male that can be portrayed as feminine, like moustaches… they still have a feminine mystique to them. In the real drag world, all of these things have always existed, non-binary people, there was lots that we just didn’t have names for, but everyone’s always been there. What Drag Race is realising is that there are – we need to hear different stories other than just the same kind of stories over and over again, you know? It just gets a little monotonous.
I really think that Drag Race [has] changed the way that the world sees a lot of people. Me coming out as trans on RuPaul’s Drag Race, no one was doing that at the time – at all. There was no Caitlyn Jenner, there was no Gigi Gorgeous, there was no Carmen Carrera, there was no none of that on TV. But there was a Sonique that came out and [I] had a hard time trying to say what it was that I was trying to say, because there were still not enough resources for me to fully understand. I knew how I felt on the inside, [but] I wasn’t able to – I’d I never heard anybody else talk about it, so I didn’t know if what I was – I’m hearing myself say this out loud, in front of the world, when I’ve only said it to myself for the most part.
Who was the first person you saw in drag?
The first drag queen I ever seen was RuPaul on TV. First queen I ever seen in person, I was, like, 17 and I had met this man on the internet, and he had come and picked me up from my small town in Georgia, and he took me up to the big city in Atlanta, and we went to this club. I don’t know the drag queen’s name, but I just remember how magical it was. I went to tip her the money, and I remember her grabbing my hand and giving it a little squeeze. I was like, oh my god, she just touched me. It was powerful. And it was a trans queen. I don’t remember her name, but she had breasts and did that song [sings], “I’m horny, horny, horny horny.” She even – I mean, this was when I was still living as boy – she grabbed me between my legs while she was performing, and I don’t think I was able to sit properly for two days because I was so sore. But I just remember feeling like, oh my God, this is everything.
Which of the queens did you bond with most this season? You seemed very popular.
It was definitely a tie between Eureka! and Ra’Jah. I had this bond with Eureka! before we got on All Stars, but Ra’Jah, there was something… I felt so drawn to her. We had several moments that were off camera that were very helpful to both of us, because we felt like we related in the sense that, people don’t really love us from our season [and] people don’t know who we are from our season. But that doesn’t matter, and that was the thing we would remind each other. It’s not about what anyone thinks about us, it’s about how we feel about us… I’ve seen a lot of hurt and worry around me, and I know I’ve been through a lot of s*** and I’m just like, I don’t know what it feels like to be loved by the Drag Race fandom, so I wasn’t missing anything, you know what I mean? I know a lot of those people were truly affected by not having the fandom, or was already so loved that they didn’t want to let those people down. For me, I didn’t give a f***.
That’s the best way to be.
I love watching RuPaul’s Drag Race, and I know how affected you can be by it, by being on the show and not seeing yourself and not being proud of what is there. So, be proud in every moment. Live in every moment. I would remind myself [of that] constantly.
My grandma passed away over a decade ago, and before I went to Drag Race, my grandma had come through a psychic to me, and she spoke to me, to use my voice, because she felt like she never got to. I knew what she meant; our voices are weapons, or they’re healers. I had my grandma with me every day that I was there. I felt her energy with me. A lot of the parts of me that really enjoy doing drag come from being a kid and my grandma letting me tap into that, and not making me feel bad about being different. She let me celebrate who I was when I was at her house, and I felt free.
Part of me feels like I was doing it for my grandma… she was my biggest cheerleader. She made sure that I would get picked up from gymnastics, she would come to my gymnastics shows; my dad was not supportive of that. My grandma just always showed me love, she never made me feel bad for sneaking into the bathroom and putting on her lipstick. I really missed her a lot, and I never really got to say goodbye to her. In one of the episodes, it really hits me, I was thinking, f***, I never even got to say goodbye to her. She just left.
[But] I felt her energy with me, it was almost spooky, and I was like, it just clicked for me, you never had to say goodbye to her, she never went anywhere, she’s always been here.
I’m sure she is very proud.
I did not leave that place feeling like – the only thing I felt really bad about was picking Scarlett’s lipstick to be honest, and there may be a wig or two choice that I probably would have done differently had I had more money, because I literally had 200 dollars in my bank account when they asked me to do Drag Race. I was poor. I had no work. I had no money coming in. I was getting ready to move back home with my family. Little things like that, then I got the call and l was like, alright girl, we’ve had less than this, let’s make it work, and I had a few friends come in, let’s get what you need. I didn’t want to put myself in debt and go get these crazy designers to make me thousands and thousands of dollars-worth of things that I couldn’t afford. I tried to do my best, that’s all you can do.
RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars 6 is available to stream on Netflix now.